Saturday, December 31, 2011

Peterborough Northern Star 2 Kings Lynn Town 2

It’s Thursday December 22nd. I’m driving the ‘Rolls Royce’ out of Ruddington Business Park. I swing left at the roundabout onto the A60. Legendary warehouseman ‘Shifty Edwards’ is my wing man. The radio is turned off, we both remain silent. We’re apprehensive, nervous, anxious and excited.

I drive past the old Nottingham Knight hotel and take a right hand turn into Wilford Hill Crematorium. We’re here to pay our respects. Shifty spins all the discs in our warehouse, he has got me listening to Tamla Motown and Northern Soul music. We both share a fondness for the American soul singer Edwin Starr, who died in the bath at his Bramcote home, near Nottingham, eight years ago at the age of 61.

We know he was laid to rest in the Southern Cemetery. We walk off in opposite directions. Suddenly Shifty catches my eye-line. He’s jumping up and down and waving his arms about frantically. He’s found him. I scamper over towards him.

The headstone is black, and the grave well tended to. Etched onto the stone in gold lettering is his real name ‘Charles Edwin Hatcher.’ It’s a poignant moment for both of us. A Northern Soul and Motown legend, buried less than a mile from where we work together.

The Top 50 Most Shocking Celebrity Moments on Channel 5 fails to amuse me on Friday evening. I turn in for bed at 10pm. I have a restless night. My stomach is churning from all the Stilton and Rioja that I’ve devoured.

The morning papers are full of the New Year’s Honours List. I notice that 82 year old Ashton-under-Lyne born BBC sports reporter Stuart Hall has been awarded an OBE. Not before time, Ma’am.

I have a browse of the Web whilst listening to The Charlatans lead singer Tim Burgess presenting the 6 Music Breakfast Show. He plays ‘Autobahn’ by German electronic synth-pop band Kraftwerk. I once saw them at Rock City in 1980. It was the most boring gig on earth. The highlight of the night was when my mate ‘Topper’ got booted out for being drunk and disorderly.

Mick McCarthy’s leading groupie, ‘Gangsta’, is 8 years old today. He had the pleasure of meeting the dour Yorkshireman last week at Molineux. ‘Gangsta’, just like his Uncle Sticky, can’t arf pick em, as Wolves and Norwich played out a cracking 2-2 draw.

I mention to ‘Gangsta’ and my Godson Will that I’ve spotted a rat in the kitchen, and that it might be wise to invest in a trap from our local hardware store. Turns out that Santa has dropped a hamster down the chimney for the youngsters.

I’m all set for my trip to Peterborough. I should know the route like the back of my hand, but nevertheless rig up the Sat Nav.

There have already been a couple of goals to report on at the King Power Stadium, Walkers Stadium – or in old money Filbert Street. David Nugent has bagged against his old club. I rate him highly and saw him terrorise the Tricky Trees earlier in the season.

I drive down the A606 towards Melton Mowbray. To my right in the distance is the recently refurbished Pullman Inn at Widmerpool. I pass signs for Long Clawson, which is one of only three places where Stilton cheese is produced.

I saw an interesting stat from BBC football commentator Conor McNamara on Twitter earlier today. Apparently Blackburn have taken points off Manchester Utd in five out of the last seven seasons. They’ve started well at Old Trafford, with their Nigerian striker Yakubu putting them one to the good from the spot. Insightful summariser Jimmy Armfield pours scorn on any comparisons between Phil Jones and the late, great Duncan Edwards.

The A1 south-bound has served me well on recent trips. I’m parked up in Peterborough town centre in just over an hour. I’m meeting an old school friend called Ackers in the Brewery Tap on Westgate. I walk past a bustling market place, with the cathedral on the opposite side of the street towering above the shops.

Ackers shouts me up a pint of Inferno from Oakham Ales, who are based in Peterborough. The pub is huge and two-tiered. A local makes good use of the jukebox –The Smiths, James and Arctic Monkeys are particular favourites of mine.

Peterborough Northern Star’s ground is situated on a huge council estate on Chestnut Avenue in the town’s Dogsthorpe area, which featured on the Channel 4 programme The Secret Millionaire. The road is crammed full of parked cars. A heavy away following is expected. I squeeze the ‘Rolls Royce’ into a tight spot on the main drag.

Peterborough Northern Star was originally formed as a village side from two brickyards, Northam in Eye and the Star brickworks in Peterborough. It would appear that there is a natural progression from their junior ranks and the untapped talent on the sprawling estate.

Kings Lynn is a sea port and market town, which lies on the River Great Ouse, in the county of Norfolk, with a population of just over 40,000. I remember visiting it as part of a Geography project in 1979. We saw scores of Skoda cars arriving in the docks from Hamburg. We also visited Lockwood’s, the tinned fruit manufacturer.

In 1987 Kings Lynn became the first town to install CCTV in its centre. Notable people from the area include Queen drummer Roger Taylor, Formula One racing driver Martin Brundle, England fast bowler Martin Saggers and former bin man Michael Carroll, who scooped over £9 million on the National Lottery and blew the lot.

Kings Lynn were formed in 1879. On 25th November 2009 they were wound up in the High Court over unpaid debts of over £77,000. Last season they were knocked out of the semi-final of the FA Vase by Coalville Town. The Linnets currently top the table, having only suffered two league defeats. Peterborough NS are sitting in 4th position.

It’s £5 on the gate and £1 for a glossy 38 page programme, heavily laden with adverts. I’m immediately impressed with the ground. Tiny covered stands are dotted on both sides of the ground. The pitch has stood up to the blustery conditions that the country has suffered over the last few days.

Business is thriving at ‘Angie’s Kitchen’ and ‘The Square Snack Bar.’ The teams are announced on the PA. One or two names are familiar to me. Former Nottingham Forest scholars Liam Hook and Robert Hughes lock horns on opposite sides.

There’s a fast, frantic opening, with chances at either end as Northern Star match the league leaders. The Linnet’s ‘keeper makes himself big and beats away a Northern Star shot, the rebound is fired wide. Kings Lynn immediately pour forward, Spriggs leaves his marker for dead, clips in a cross to the back stick, where Luke Thurlbourne nods the ball high into the net.

The remainder of the first half is tepid at best, as both teams fail to craft a worthy chance. Kings Lynn have been a major disappointment, they are narrow and without quality.

I’ve forgot my glasses so can’t check the half times on my phone. Ackers is not wearing his reading glasses. We both struggle to scan the BBC vidiprinter. No need to worry about goals at The City Ground – apparently they’ve cancelled the Goal of the Month award at the Tricky Trees for December.

Ackers has pea and ham soup, which appears to be a local delicacy in these parts. I notice that tea is poured from the pot, and very nice it is too. It’s marked with a score of 8 out of 10.

Lynn’s manager Gary Setchell has certainly kicked an ass or two after a lacklustre performance. They play with more urgency in the second period. The front two decide to stretch their legs, the link-up play is impressive. The Linnets go two to the good, with Spriggs hitting the onion bag from close range.

They decide to run the clock down and withdraw their two forwards, not through fatigue though. I’m immediately impressed with youngster Robbie Harris, who has energy, movement and desire.

Northern Star throw caution to the wind. A deflected shot loops up into the air, ‘Gibbo’ thumps the clearance into the net. The Linnets are on the back foot but still manage to hit the woodwork through Harris. Minutes from time Northern Star’s substitute is bundled over in the box. Stead converts from the spot, despite the Linnets’ ‘keeper getting a strong hand on it.

Attendance: 466

Man of the Match: Richard Jones

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Histon 1 Gainsborough Trinity 1

It’s 8.30am on Saturday. I’m driving the ‘Rolls Royce’ through the black wrought iron gates of the oldest Football League club in the world. I head towards ‘Lawton’s Bar’ – named after legendary Lancastrian striker Tommy Lawton, who notched 90 goals in 150 appearances for the Magpies.

I’m here for a FA Module One course. The tutor is former Mansfield Town and Chesterfield midfielder Mark Kearney. He asks us to mingle with the other students and to introduce ourselves. I get chatting to a tall, thick-set chap, with a receding hairline. He’s sporting a D***y County football shirt.

I don’t quite catch his name. We’re chatting about our respective roles in football. He says he is a youth team coach at D***y County. I ask him his name again. “Noel” he replies. He says he used to play for Dirty Leeds, Coventry City and Middlesbrough. I feel such a fool for not recognising him. I apologise. It’s none other than the striker Noel Whelan.

Four hours later Mark Kearney announces we’re having a lunch break. He comically asks Noel, in his thick Scouse accent, what food he’s rustling up. It totally slipped my mind that Whelan was a contestant in Celebrity MasterChef 2006. The course blows my mind away. Topics include: a child’s self-esteem, how to manage mistakes and motivate a child. It puts me in a positive mood for the rest of the day.

I spend Sunday morning watching a top two clash at Under 16 level in Nottingham. I catch the second half of ‘The Skipper’s’ game at Clifton FC. I note another manager behaving appallingly towards a referee. The FA inspectors, who have assessed my team on two occasions this season, in the space of a month, would have been an interested observer today.

I’m dragged around Sainsbury’s at Castle Marina in the afternoon. It’s the Christmas nibbles and Red wine shop. I manage to sneak a few extra items into the trolley, but I’m well and truly rumbled at the check-out by a grumpy Mrs P. Grapefruit segments, a tin of pineapples and lime and mango poppadoms were apparently not on the shopping list.

TV viewing on Sunday evening sees Little Mix breeze their way onto the winner’s podium on X-Factor. Lennon and McCartney, Sonia, Jim Royle and Julian Cope will see little threat to their record sales from Scouse one-trick pony, Marcus Collins.

I visit Boston United’s York Street on Tuesday for their Conference North clash with the Steelmen of Corby. The biting wind and slippery conditions make for entertaining fare. Old ‘Pineapple Head’ (Jason Lee) ploughs a lone furrow up top for the Pilgrims. He wears a short-sleeved shirt in arctic conditions. I wouldn’t put him down as a man to wear black woollen mittens – sadly I’m mistaken.

The highlight of the evening is the pea and ham soup in the ‘Executive Lounge’ at half-time. We even grab a cup of tea and some ‘Nice’ sugar-coated biscuits. 1-1 is a fair result. Ten men Corby see Matt Rhead fluff a penalty. A controversial goal, three minutes from time, by Tyrone Kirk hardly improves morale.

A quick dash around Nottingham on Wednesday lunchtime (Christmas shopping) should keep me in good books for another year. The lady behind the counter in the Pandora shop certainly earned her corn.

Friday night is spent in silence. I’m proper seething about summat. Never mind, I’m hoping the trip to Histon will blow the cobwebs away. I read an article in The Times about how Demba Ba was not offered terms by Barnsley, Watford and Swansea when he was a youngster.

It’s Saturday morning and I’m back from the paper round. Sticky junior has picked up £20 in tips. A hat tip to number 137, who despite the occasional sarcastic remark (“better late than never”) managed to leave £5 in a Christmas card.

I make a brew, whilst Mrs P kindly knocks me up a sausage sandwich. Danny Baker is asking folk to ring in his Radio 5 show to tell him what they eat and drink while in the shower. He has that buffoon Barry Fry on the ‘Sausage Sandwich Game.’ White Van Man has noticed on my Facebook and Twitter accounts that I’m Histon bound. He books a place in the ‘Rolls Royce.’

Trumpy trudges out the front door, with his plastic bottle of cider caressed like he’s holding a baby. He’s chatting away almost immediately. He went to hospital yesterday for a scan on his groin. He took the opportunity to have a couple of jars in The Dragon on Long Row in Nottingham, before catching the bus to the Queens Medical Centre.

White Van Man says he won’t be drinking for the first three months of the New Year. I reply that I will be having three weeks off it too. Trumpy pipes up that he’ll go for a personal best of three hours without an alcoholic beverage in January.

He recently spent the night in Boston, Lincs, holed up in the Coach and Horses. If you drink eight pints of Harvest Pale Ale you get the ninth one for free. Trumpy cake-walked the task.

We sail down an empty A1 and onto the A14. The drive, once we hit Cambridgeshire, becomes as dull as dishwater. New readers will be interested and amazed to know that Trumpy Bolton’s sole aim in life is to make a financial transaction in every village, town and city in England, Scotland and Wales.

The first pub he’s earmarked has turned into an old people’s complex. Another hostelry says ‘open 12-3pm’, but there’s no sign of life. In the village of Impington disaster strikes again, the legend mistakenly enters a Chinese restaurant believing it to be a pub. We finally settle for a spot of lunch in a gastro bar called the Rose & Crown. Motown is on the jukebox. Trumpy moans about the ‘anti-social networks’ as I type out a few Tweets.

We stroll up past the village green, where an elderly couple with their grandchild are feeding bread to a flock of waddling ducks. The Red Lion, opposite the Green, is a treat. The ceiling is festooned in hundreds of beer mats. A pint of Yorkshire terrier from the York Brewery puts me in the mood for football.

We leave the ‘Rolls’ in the pub car park and take a wander up to Bridge Road. The walk is longer than anticipated. Trumpy is struggling with his possible hernia injury. A very kind steward offers to drive us back into the village after the game.

Histon is a village to the north of Cambridge with a population of 4500. Chivers jelly and marmalade was made in the village for over 60 years. Up to 3000 people were employed at the factory. It was sold to Schweppes in 1959.

The Stutes were founded in 1904. In November 2008 they became the first non league team to knock Leeds United out of the FA Cup. Managerial dream team Steve Fallon and John Beck are long gone. The money has also dried up.

Former Arsenal and Millwall midfielder David Livermore, at the age of 31, is the current manager. His remit is to blood youth.

It’s £10 on the turnstile and £2.50 for a decent programme. Trumpy limps his way up to the Glassworld Bar. He finds a seat next to a window and radiator. It gives him a panoramic view of the ground. White Van Man takes a particular interest in a tray of crusty meat pies that have recently arrived from the kitchen. There are pendants on the wall from Ipswich Town, Liechtenstein and Notts County.

I leave the pair of big girls’ blouses snuggling up together in the bar and take a stroll around the Glassworld. There are open terraces at both ends. On the far side a stand runs along the whole length of the ground. Towering above them are leylandii. On the opposite side the stand is split into two. Tucked away in the corner is the ‘Club Shop.’ It’s a flat surface, perfect for passing football.

The standard of football, as it was at Boston on Tuesday evening is above average, although Trinity are poor in the final third. Dan Holman is lively going forward for the Stutes. He scored 60 goals in 78 appearances for UCL team Long Buckby. He forces a save from Gainsborough ‘keeper Kenny Arthur.

I’m back in the bar having just chatted to a lad who has signed for Corby Town from Kings Lynn. Trumpy has already become the barman’s best friend. Group 4 will have to employ an extra man to carry out the takings as the legend ups his game in the drinking stakes – they’ve already run out of cider.

Trumpy’s day gets better with news that David Nugent has nudged Leicester ahead at Doncaster. I also notice that the ‘Red Imps’ have taken the lead at Forest Green. Suddenly our eyes are on the game, a poor punch by Arthur falls at the feet of Daniel Sparkes who smacks the ball into the back of the net from the edge of the area.

I stand in the away end in the second half and strike up a conversation with a Trinity guru. He explains that they are without their talisman Ryan Kendall who is injured. He admits that they are well below par today.

A double substitution changes the game. Darren Stamp has already missed two gilt-edged chances when Gainsborough take a quick free kick. Jamie Yates ghosts past the Histon full back, before planting the ball onto the head of Stamp, who makes no mistake at the third time of asking.

There are chances at both ends as defences wobble like the Chivers jelly with either team searching for a winner. It’s a fair result, with the game played in an excellent spirit. I like Histon FC a lot. I admire the club ethos and wish them well for the rest of the season.

Attendance: 342

Man of the Match: Dan Holman

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Alfreton Town 3 Newport County 2

I leave work at 3.20pm. I’m ghost white and trembling with fear. I make the short ten minute journey back to our village. This dreadful day has finally crept up on me. That bloody 70p bag of broken rock from Whitby has done for me.

The dentist said I could have root canal treatment for £250 or an extraction for £47. It’s Hobson’s choice folks. I tentatively climb the stairs up to the surgery. I flop into one of the chairs after some pleasant chit-chat with the receptionist, who has worked here for 33 years.

There are some magazines lying on the table. I’m not in the mood for Golf Monthly, February 2008, or the Reader’s Digest from May 1999.The girls on reception are having a hoot, whilst I stare into space, absolutely kacking myself. I scroll through my Twitter timeline and fire off a few texts.

“Mr Palmer.” Ooh bollocks; that’s me. The toothache worsens when I hear Steve Wright and his condescending cronies on the radio. Two massive needles are plunged into my mouth. How the hell did Gazza enjoy the dentist’s chair?

There’s crunching, twisting and turning, but out she finally pops. Never again readers. Never again, will I buy a bag of broken rock, from a seaside resort, at the fag end of summer.

There’s no time for groundhopping at the weekend. We’ve a big contract at work to fulfil. The MD asks for volunteers for the weekend. I work Saturday morning. I coach ‘The Skipper’s’ team in the afternoon. It’s a tough, uncompromising game, played in Stapleford, to the west of Nottingham. We bow out of the Notts FA Shield, but not without a fight.

I’m as miserable as sin on Sunday. There’s no tea-time alcoholic beverage or evening bag of pork scratchings. I plod on with my pre-Christmas detox. Mrs P raises a glass of Chardonnay in my direction, whilst Sticky Palms downs a pint of water out of a Stella glass.

On Monday I’m up with the larks for a 6am start. I weigh in after seven days of torture. A five pound loss lifts my spirits. I’m back home for 3pm. I watch the hilarious satirical comedy Black Mirror. It’s Channel 4 at its best.

Tuesday evening can’t come quick enough. I leave ‘The Skipper stretched out on the sofa listening to Jessie J. The Taxman arrives at 6.40pm. We’re on the guest list tonight and he’s volunteered to pilot. The ring road is as dead as a dodo, and the M1 as clear as a bell. We turn off at Junction 28. I’m already annoyed that The Taxman has Deano and Pete on Capital FM 96.2.

The Taxman has been Christmas shopping in town with The Taxlady. Having pounded the streets of Nottingham for four hours, his patience finally snapped in Marks and Spencer. An altercation with ‘er indoors’ resulted in a single bus fare home for the Inland Revenue’s finest.

We fly down the A38. Smoke billows out of a chimney on an industrial estate at Broadmeadows. We park up off North Street in a residential area of Alfreton. We follow a guy wrapped up in Alfreton colours up a snicket.

I squeeze through the turnstile and pounce upon a programme seller. I’m disappointed, having parted with £2.50, to find no player profiles for the Exiles.

I glance at the line-ups and recognise a familiar name, who was once an icon at Meadow Lane. David Pipe wears the No.19 shirt for Newport. He recently signed on non-contract terms following his release from prison, having served just over a year for a 38 month sentence for fracturing someone’s skull in an unprovoked attack.

It’s Alfreton’s maiden season in the Conference Premier. They are finding it tough without their grand fromage, Liam Hearn, who has flown the nest to the Mariners of Grimsby Town.

The 70 hardy souls from Newport, who have made the 300 mile round trip, are tucked away in the corner. It’s my first experience of segregation in the non league this season. There are even a couple of Taffy plod tossing it off for the night.

Newport is a city in South Wales with a population of over 100,000. The city stands on the banks of the River Usk. It’s port grew during the Industrial Revolution, with the transportation of coal and iron.

Notable people born in the city include: Animal Magic presenter Johnny Morris, author Leslie Thomas, actor Michael Sheen, footballers Chris Gunter and James Collins and Stoke City manager Tony Pulis.

The Celtic Manor Resort is situated just outside the city. It was, of course, the scene of a dramatic victory for Europe over the USA in the Ryder Cup in 2010.

Newport County were founded in 1912. They were relegated from the Football League in 1988 and went into bankruptcy in 1989. I once saw them trounce my team, Lincoln City, 4-1 in 1982. I left with half an hour to go. John Aldridge and Tommy Tynan bagged a brace a-piece that cold, wet night. Oxford United paid £75,000 for Aldo’s services. Liverpool shelled out ten times that, three years later.

Record transfer received by the club is £100,000 for Craig Reid from Stevenage. Record transfer paid is £80,000 for Alan Waddle from Swansea City.

As we take a stroll around this lovely old ground with its bucket full of soul and endless character, The Taxman drops out that his Dad once lived in Newport when he left Poland to head for these shores. We’re ambling behind the goal chin-wagging when the reserve keeper blasts a shot that misses my head by inches. I toss the ball back over the wall and give him an icy stare.

We stand on the back row at the bottom of the slope that Newport will attack. The pitch is flat, the surface short and greasy. The DJ plays Emerson, Lake and Palmer and ‘Radar Love’ by Golden Earring. I’d put him as late fifties.

Newport start like a house on fire. Matthews and Buchanan look a menacing partnership for the Exiles. Buchanan lashes home a loose ball after Danny Potter had blocked a Matthews shot. He’s inches away from doubling his account only minutes later. He twists and turns and let fly from 20 yards out, only to see his shot flash the wrong side of the post.

There’s some interesting folk here tonight, dressed in an array of different headgear. There are flat-cappers, Bear-skins, pom pom hats, beanie hats and baseball caps. Alfreton are soon on level terms. A Josh Law corner is swung in from ther left and is headed home by Anthony Church. The Exiles lose their way as the home team enjoy possession and exert pressure. Jake Moult hits a rasping 20 yard drive to put Alfreton 2-1 up.

We’ve picked another cracking game. It’s 28 matches ago since I blogged a 0-0. I’m keen to stand in the away end in the second half but a couple of burly stewards put paid to that. I peer into the John Harrison Suite. It’s packed to the rafters.

Alan ‘Fluff’ Freeman continues his Pick of the Pops at the break. Rod Stewart and Hocus Pocus by Focus must mean the Golden Year is 1973. We consider whether to nip out to the off license to purchase a Worthington’s Party Seven and four bottles of Mackeson.

Newport come out all guns blazing. The ball is pinging about the Alfreton area when captain Gary Warren equalises on the hour.

It‘s all Alfreton in the final ten minutes but they can’t find their way past the Newport goal. With a minute remaining a loose ball finds its way to hard-working substitute Nathan Jarman who gleefully dispatches the ball through a ruck of players and into the net to send the Alfreton Town Baby Squad into raptures.

I really can’t half pick em.

Attendance: 529

Man of the Match: Referee (Darren Bond), who was superb. Let the game flow and only one yellow card.